I’ve been preparing for the graduate course, “Children’s Literature in Teaching Writing,” I’m teaching in June every time my daughter goes down for a nap, heads to sleep, etc. I read through a sleuth of journal articles last month in order to pick the right ones for the course. One of the articles I read, “Using Authors as Mentors,” was written by Aimee Buckner for Primary Voices. Buckner wrote something that made me think about mentors in a different way:
In the fall, as my students and I get to know each other as readers and writers, I share with them the things I do as a reader and a writer. For example, I tell them about my mentors. I have mentors for teaching, mentors for parenting, and mentors for writing. We discuss what a mentor is and how mentors can help them become better readers and writers (1999, 7).
You know, I’ve had mentors in all aspects of my life for years, but I never recalled explaining the concept of the different places I have mentors. While the students who are taking course should be much more comfortable with the concept of a mentor than young children are, I think I’m going to introduce the idea of mentors by taking a cue from Buckner. (After all, much of what I will be doing in the graduate class will be easily transferable to the classroom.)
I wanted to think about a true mentor relationship I have outside of the parenting (I look to my own parents incessantly!) and teaching (Too many incredible people to name and describe in this blog post!). I immediately thought about my passion for cooking. I have a cooking mentor, but it’s not Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, or my Dad (all of whom I admire greatly, but for different reasons). Rather, it’s my next-door neighbor Lori.
Lori and I became fast friends when I moved to Pennsylvania nearly three years ago. We quickly bonded over a love of food. Not only does Lori love to cook and bake, she’s really good at it. She can make everything from succulent chicken to homemade blackberry and cherry ice cream to the most authentic matzoh ball soup I’ve ever tasted. We often trade recipes when one of us has made something we think the other will enjoy. After Isabelle was born, she brought dinner over my family for an entire week. Not only did she bring us food, she gave us 30 – 40 menus (i.e., main dishes and sides) to choose from so we could have exactly what we wanted every night. (How incredible is she?)
But I’m not done. You see, there are two other things that make Lori my cooking mentor. First, she has an organic garden in her backyard, which is a labor of love. She grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs. When I expressed an interest in growing an herb garden of my own, she helped me understand which kinds of herbs I could successfully grown (so they wouldn’t be eaten by deer) and how to grow them. She guided me though my purchase of potting soils and mulch. (Remember, I had been living in a city for 12 years prior to moving here.) She even gave me tips on how to plant my herbs and tend to them as the weather got warmer. With her guidance, I have had two successful summers with an herb garden on the side of our house.
The other reason Lori is my food mentor is because her kids are great eaters. When we first moved to town, I invited her and her kids over for dinner since her husband was out of town for a few days. I asked her, “What do your kids eat?” when preparing my menu.
“Anything,” she replied.
“Anything?” I asked, skeptically.
“Yes, make whatever you’d like and they’ll eat it,” she stated.
She was dead serious. Her kids ate everything I made, of which I remember a couple of menu items, which were lime chicken and a vegetable tian.
Since that time I’ve learned that her children have a sophisticated palette. They eat everything the grown-ups in the house eat for dinner every night. Late last summer they declared that the basil from her herb garden tasted too bitter so she called asking if they could pick a few basil leaves from my herb garden (Of course!) for the tomato, mozzarella, and basil sandwiches they were making.
As a parent who doesn’t want to make separate food for my child, I’ve repeatedly asked Lori what her secret was for getting her kids to be accepting of all foods. Her answer was pretty simple. She told me that when her kids were babies she pureed everything she cooked for her and her husband (for the kids). And then, as they got older, her children just continued to eat what their parents were eating. In addition, she limits the amounts of kid foods (e.g., chicken nuggets) she has at home. With those simple principles in mind, I have begun to feed my daughter with the same no-nonsense approach to food preparation. I cook it and she eats it (with the exception of the times she’s teething and doesn’t want to eat anything other than Cheerios and milk since utensils must irritate her already tender gums). As a result of my unwavering mealtime approach, which I mentored after the way Lori has raised her children to be flexible eaters, there have been only a handful of struggles since Isabelle started eating solid foods. Thankfully, my daughter has a diverse palette which includes all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Oh, and she eats kale nearly every day. While some people might say I have a good eater on my hands, I truly believe I have a good eater on my hands thanks to my neighbor’s mentoring of me as a mom who cooks for her baby daily.
So, now that I’ve told you about one of my mentors, I’m curious about yours. Who are your mentors?
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).